1935 Auburn 851 Custom Speedster

E.L. Cord had worked wonders at Auburn in his relatively short tenure at the head of the company. When he arrived in 1924, Auburn cars were staid, dull and unappealing. With a stroke of genius, Cord revitalized the brand simply by repainting unsold stock in bright colors and launching a vigorous advertising campaign. As reward for saving the company, he was offered a seat at the director’s table, but instead he bought the whole company and put himself in charge. Within a few short years, the marque’s image was transformed, with sports stars, business moguls and Hollywood actors seen in stylish Auburn automobiles. E.L. Cord had carefully positioned the brand within his fast growing automobile empire by offering stylish performance cars at a much lower price point than Duesenberg. For 1931, sales had continued to rebound despite economic conditions, and Auburn introduced fresh new styling that was inspired by the designed Alex Leamy’s Cord L29. As a further boost to Auburn, a new Speedster was unveiled in 1931. The car featured a sleek look with its split radiators shell, split and heavily raked windscreen and signature tapered boat-tail.

All along, E.L. Cord was losing interest in building cars and looking to invest heavily in the field of Aviation. Sales began to slump and Auburn looked for a way to revive the brand yet again. Gordon Buehrig was brought in to redesign standard Auburns and charged with creating a new Speedster, inspired by a Duesenberg J he designed that was built by Weymann. The caveat being he had to utilize leftover ’33 bodies from Union City Body to save money. The new car utilized very little of the old bodies, mainly the mid-section of the cabin and top frame. The fenders, tail, and most of the cowl were all new and in the end, Buehrig felt that this new car was even better balanced and prettier than the Duesenberg that inspired it. In the days when Bugattis crossed France and 4½-Litre Bentleys tore through the British countryside, the American equivalent was the Auburn speedster. Indiana’s Auburn Automobile Company revealed its first version of this dashing body style, inspired by a Duesenberg show car, for the 1928 model year and would offer variations on the theme through to the end of production in 1936.

Underneath, the speedster shared the same exciting mechanicals as other supercharged Auburn models. Its power was sent to a Columbia dual-ratio rear axle, standard equipment on the supercharged models, which provided two ratios for each gear, one low and one high. The ratios could be changed as often as desired while at very low speeds or at a stop by moving the switch in the center of the steering wheel. This provided the supercharged Auburn with much greater flexibility, making it a true “driver’s car,” ideal for both purring through crowded cities and roaring down country lanes.

Unusual as it may seem, not all of the glamorous speedsters were supercharged from the factory. Auburn factory records indicate that a single un-supercharged speedster was built, in the highest-tier naturally aspirated Custom trim with the two-speed Dual Ratio rear axle. This car was actually completed not in Connersville, like most 1935–1936 Auburns, but in the original Auburn production facility in its hometown of Auburn, Indiana. Purportedly its unusual specification is explained by its having been completed for show and exhibition purposes before the Auburn superchargers were ready, something supported by its relatively early serial number without the “3” prefix seen on supercharged examples. Further, both the serial and engine number tags remain original, as is the engine stamping on the block.

The un-supercharged speedster was formerly owned by Mark Vantatenbow of Michigan, in whose ownership it was included in the roster of surviving 851/852 speedsters, published in the Auburn Cord Duesenberg Club Newsletter in 1996. The car then moved south to Texas, where it was part of three prominent collections, the most recent of which embarked on a complete body on frame restoration shortly after his purchase in 2019.  The body was finished in an authentic but seldom-seen 1935 Auburn color, Duck Egg Blue.  The body is straight, showing a quality restoration, and the doors exhibit very good shutlines.

Like the exterior, the interior presents beautifully. The mottled red leather upholstery and red carpets complement the blue paint brilliantly. Likewise, the grey canvas top is a well-judged touch that brings the paint and interior together quite well. The interior design eschews traditional wood trim for a modern, streamlined approach. The dash in particular is fabulous; with deco-style instruments arranged in damascene-pattern instrument panel, topped with a chrome header.

Underhood the big Lycoming Eight is very well detailed, and finished in correct green and topped with a silver-painted cylinder head. The engine is mated to a proper 3 speed manual gearbox which sends power through the optional Dual Ratio rear axle, essentially giving the car an overdrive and allowing for surprising top-end performance.

Now in beautiful overall condition and fine running order, this is a unique example of the great Auburn Speedster, one of the most significant American automobiles of the Classic Era.


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Stock number 7707

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